When the Toronto Maple Leafs opened their NHL season this week with back-to-back road wins, a familiar voice was back behind the microphone.
But for more than two months over the summer, Jim Ralph thought he was another casualty of the upheaval that hit Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment with the arrival of Tim Leiweke as president and chief executive officer. However, Leiweke never had the funny and popular Leafs radio analyst in his sights but he did wind up taking aim at the MLSE executive who was in the middle of the confusion.
Before we start this tale, it must be pointed out our sources are people close to MLSE but not Ralph. He declined to say anything about the matter other than "I'm happy to be back and thankful to the people who made it possible."
The trouble started in mid-June when Ralph received an e-mail from Chris Hebb, MLSE's senior vice-president of broadcast and content. Hebb requested a meeting. Ralph's contract was up and he heard rumours it might not be renewed. He mentioned this in his reply to Hebb, who responded by requesting a meeting the following Tuesday. Ralph replied that he could take any news over the telephone.
The next day, Hebb called Ralph and the news was not good. By the end of the conversation, Ralph was convinced he was fired and it was because neither Rogers Communications nor BCE Inc., the new majority owners of MLSE, wanted him back on the radio broadcasts. Ralph was shocked, those close to him say, but handled the situation with his customary humour.
Ralph announced on Twitter he "got the word that my job as Leaf colour guy is over. 16-yr run 1,196 consecutive games ends. Thankful for the run." He also made it clear he thought Rogers and BCE were behind the decision.
Ralphie being Ralphie, he followed up with lots of humour: "Important thing for me now is to set an example for my kids in handling adversity. Luckily they are both of age to drink with me."
Soon, Ralph's tweets were trending on Twitter. Leaf fans were not happy to see him go. Neither, it turned out, were BCE or Rogers. Ralph got a call from Rob Gray, the radio boss at BCE's TSN network. He told Ralph he did not want to fire him and had not even spoken to his counterpart at Rogers about it. They were to meet to discuss the Leaf broadcasts, which are shared by TSN and Rogers' network Sportsnet, on the following Tuesday, the same day Hebb originally requested a meeting with Ralph.
The timing here struck a lot of people in the business as curious. It would have been possible for Hebb to have dusted Ralph in one meeting and then met with Rogers and BCE with the vacancy already created.
Hebb could not be reached for comment. Neither could Gray. Leiweke is out of the country and also could not be contacted.
Other people began calling Ralph, who is one of the more popular figures around the NHL. Don Cherry shared some stories about how many times plans by the CBC brass to fire him were foiled by public opinion.
It wasn't long before Ralph was assured he would be back for at least one more season. He got another call from Hebb. This time, Ralph was told he could go back on the radio, as an employee of both Rogers and BCE (his employer under his previous contract was MLSE) but there was no money in the Leafs TV budget for him to continue his work with the team's television outlet.
Then, later in the summer, Hebb was one of the MLSE executives pushed out the door by Leiweke. Those familiar with MLSE say Hebb's treatment of Ralph had nothing to do with his departure.
Ralph recently signed a one-year contract, although more uncertainty awaits as neither Rogers nor BCE has divulged their long-term plans for the radio or regional TV broadcasts.
By the time it was all sorted out, Ralph was too embarrassed to discuss the situation on Twitter so a lot of people had a pleasant surprise to see him in the seats when the Leafs opened their training camp.
Carolina Hurricanes owner Pete Karmanos also had a tumultuous off-season. He fired his son Jason from his job as the Canes' executive vice-president and assistant general manager and then was fired himself as a consultant by Compuware Corp., the Detroit technology company he founded 40 years ago.
The reason for Jason Karmanos's dismissal is murky, as both he and his father will only say it is the result of a family dispute and nothing to do with the hockey team. Apparently, the rancour between them was building for some time and then became untenable, which resulted in the firing in early September.
Caught in the middle is Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford. He started working for the elder Karmanos 30 years ago when Jason was eight years old and grew close to both men. Rutherford wisely declined to comment on the matter.
Pete Karmanos retired from Compuware on March 11, the day he turned 70, and departed with a six-year contract as a consultant for a total of $3.6-million (U.S.). He has always been someone who speaks his mind, which led to a messy blowup between him and the new leaders of Compuware that ended with Karmanos' dismissal one week ago.
Relations between Karmanos and new CEO Robert Paul were not good from the start and Compuware cancelled two retirement celebrations for Karmanos. He fired back more than once, according to the Detroit News, with a final blast delivered Sept. 20 at a service club breakfast. Karmanos felt Paul and the new executive team were too eager to please shareholders above all.
"CEO means community, employees and then the owners," the Detroit News quoted Karmanos as saying at the breakfast in a shot at Paul. "Current management of Compuware needs to get their head out of their ass, all right, and understand they have more responsibility than playing some kind of silly game with some jerks in New York City."
Paul and company quickly cancelled Karmanos's consulting contract. But he has no plans to part company with the Hurricanes.
"As long as I'm breathing I will run the team and try to win another Stanley Cup," Karmanos told Raleigh's News & Observer this week.